The study was conducted in high schools in the Chicago Public Schools district. Schools that had large numbers of students failing Algebra IB (second-semester Algebra) and were open for summer school were recruited to participate in the study. Seventeen high schools participated in the study. The study took place during 2011 and 2012, with 4 schools participating only in 2011, 2 schools only in 2012, and the remainder of the schools participating in both years.
Students participating in the study had failed Algebra IB and generally exhibited poor academic performance in other areas. On average, participating students had failed 4.5 semester courses and had prior math scores that were 0.29 standard deviations below the district average. In the previous year 40% of participating students had been suspended, 5% had moved schools, and the average student had missed 30 school days.
Of the total 1,224 student who participated in the study across the two school years, 38 percent were female, 57 percent were Hispanic, 33 percent were African American, 8 percent were White, 2 percent were other races or ethnicities, 86 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 12 percent were eligible for special education services, and 47 percent spoke Spanish as their home or native language.
In the Algebra I condition 38% of students were female, 12% were special education students, 56% were Latino, and 46% were native Spanish speakers.
In the face-to-face condition 37% of students were female, 12% were special education students, 58% were Latino, and 48% were native Spanish speakers.
The intervention condition is The Aventa Learning (now called FuelEducation) online Algebra I summer course. The online credit recovery course was offered during a three- to four-week summer session and was scheduled for 60 hours. The course took place on site via computers at participating schools and was facilitated by an in-class mentor and taught by an online teacher. The in-class mentors were certified teachers, but were not necessarily licensed to teach mathematics. Aventa hired online teachers who were certified to teach mathematics. The course was organized into five units related to systems of equations, polynomials, quadratics and radicals, rational expressions, and exponentials. Students were encouraged to progress through the units in order, but had flexibility in how they chose to proceed. Students on average completed 2.5 out of the 5 units. Students communicated with the online teachers through back and forth online chats, whiteboard demonstrations, and the learning management system, which often did not require the teacher and student to be online at the same time. Students also had periodic opportunities for real-time communication with teachers and other students using an online platform called Elluminate Live! Students received immediate feedback on practice problems and assessment through the online system.
The second credit recovery intervention is a face-to-face Algebra I summer course. The face-to-face summer course was a traditional Algebra I credit recovery course. The course was offered during a three- to four-week summer session and was scheduled for 60 hours. Certified math instructors taught each course at the participating schools. The teachers determined the content, sequence, and pacing of the material covered in the face-to-face classes. On average across the face-to-face classes, the study team observed that approximately half of the content focused on second semester Algebra, and half focused on first semester Algebra and pre-Algebra topics. The study team also observed that topics in 28 percent of the face-to-face classes were presented in an order that did not follow a sequence typically seen in a textbook or district-pacing guide. In-person communication occurred between face-to-face instructors and students during class time. Students did not receive immediate feedback on their performance.
Support for implementation
In-class mentors in the online class attended a training session before the summer course began. They received training on the use of the online course, how to monitor student progress, and how to communicate with the teachers of the online classes. The online teachers were given concurrent professional development and were supervised by Aventa.